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Aus Community education FOSS gov20 Government society5

Embrace your inner geek: speech to launch QUT OSS community

This was a speech I gave in Brisbane to launch the QUT OSS group. It talks about FOSS, hacker culture, open government/data, and why we all need to embrace our inner geek 🙂

Welcome to the beginning of something magnificent. I have had the luck, privilege and honour to be involved in some pretty awesome things over the 15 or so years I’ve been in the tech sector, and I can honestly say it has been my involvement in the free and Open Source software community that has been one of the biggest contributors.

It has connected me to amazing and inspiring geeks and communities nationally and internationally, it has given me an appreciation of the fact that we are exactly as free as the tools we use and the skills we possess, it has given me a sense of great responsibility as part of the pioneer warrior class of our age, and it has given me the instincts and tools to do great things and route around issues that get in the way of awesomeness.

As such it is really excited to be part of launching this new student focused Open Source group at QUT, especially one with academic and industry backing so congratulations to QUT, Red Hat, Microsoft and Tech One.

It’s also worth mentioning that Open Source skills are in high demand, both nationally and internationally, and something like 2/3 of Open Source developers are doing so in some professional capacity.

So thanks in advance for having me, and I should say up front that I am here in a voluntary capacity and not to represent my employer or any other organisation.

Who am I? Many things: martial artist, musician, public servant, recently recovered ministerial adviser, but most of all, I am a proud and reasonably successful geek.

Geek Culture

So firstly, why does being a geek make me so proud? Because technology underpins everything we do in modern society. It underpins industry, progress, government, democracy, a more empowered, equitable and meritocratic society. Basically technology supports and enhances everything I care about, so being part of that sector means I can play some small part in making the world a better place.

It is the geeks of this world that create and forge the world we live in today. I like to go to non-geek events and tell people who usually take us completely for granted, “we made the Internet, you’re welcome”, just to try to embed a broader appreciation for tech literacy and creativity.

Geeks are the pioneers of the modern age. We are carving out the future one bit at a time, and leading the charge for mainstream culture. As such we have, I believe, a great responsibility to ensure our powers are used to improve life for all people, but that is another lecture entirely.

Geek culture is one of the driving forces of innovation and progress today, and it is organisations that embrace technology as an enabler and strategic benefit that are able to rapidly adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges.

FOSS culture is drawn very strongly from the hacker culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Unfortunately the term hacker has been stolen by the media and spooks to imply bad or illegal behaviours, which we would refer to as black hat hacking or cracking. But true hacker culture is all about being creative and clever with technology, building cool stuff, showing off one’s skills, scratching an itch.

Hacker culture led to free software culture in the 80’s and 90’s, also known as Open Source in business speak, which also led to a broader free culture movement in the 90’s and 00’s with Creative Commons, Wikipedia and other online cultural commons. And now we are seeing a strong emergence of open government and open science movements which is very exciting.

Open Source

A lot of people are aware of the enormity of Wikipedia. Even though Open Source well predates Wikipedia, it ends up being a good tool to articulate to the general population the importance of Open Source.

Wikipedia is a globally crowdsourced phenomenon than, love it or hate it, has made knowledge more accessible than every before. I personally believe that the greatest success of Wikipedia is in demonstrating that truth is perception, and the “truth” held in the pages of Wikipedia ends up, ideally anyway, being the most credible middle ground of perspectives available. The discussion pages of any page give a wonderful insight to any contradicting perspectives or controversies and it teaches us the importance of taking everything with a grain of salt.

Open Source is the software equivalent of Wikipedia. There are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of Open Source software projects in the world, and you would used thousands of the most mature and useful ones every day, without even knowing it. Open Source operating systems like Linux or MINIX powers your cars, devices, phones, telephone exchanges and the majority of servers and super computers in the world. Open Source web tools like WordPress, Drupal or indeed WikiMedia (the software behind Wikipedia) power an enormous amount of websites you go to everyday. Even Google heavily uses Open Source software to build the worlds most reliable infrastructure. If Google.com doesn’t work, you generally check your own network reliability first.

Open Source is all about people working together to scratch a mutual itch, sharing in the development and maintenance of software that is developed in an open and collaborative way. You can build on the top of existing Open Source software platforms as a technical foundation for innovation, or employ Open Source development methodologies to better innovate internally. I’m still terrified by the number of organisations I see that don’t use base code revision systems and email around zip files!

Open Source means you can leverage expertise far beyond what you could ever hope to hire, and you build your business around services. The IT sector used to be all about services before the proprietary lowest common denominator approach to software emerged in the 80s.

But we have seen the IT sector largely swing heavily back to services, except in the case on niche software markets, and companies compete on quality of services and whole solution delivery rather than specific products. Services companies that leverage Open Source often find their cost of delivery lower, particularly in the age of “cloud” software as a service, where customers want to access software functionality as a utility based on usage.

Open Source can help improve quality and cost effectiveness of technology solutions as it creates greater competition at the services level.

The Open Source movement has given us an enormous collective repository of stable, useful, innovative, responsive and secure software solutions. I must emphasise secure because many eyes reviewing code means a better chance of identifying and fixing issues. Security through obscurity is a myth and it always frustrates me when people buy into the line that Open Source is somehow less secure than proprietary solutions because you can see the code.

If you want to know about government use of Open Source, check out the Open Source policy on the Department of Finance and Deregulation website. It’s a pretty good policy not only because it encourages procurement processes to consider Open Source equally, but because it encourages government agencies to contribute to and get involved in the Open Source community.

Open Government

It has been fascinating to see a lot of Open Source geeks taking their instincts and skills with them into other avenues. And to see non-technical and non-Open Source people converging on the same basic principles of openness and collaboration for mutual gain from completely different avenues.

For me, the most exciting recent evolution of hacker ethos is the Open Government movement.

Open Government has always been associated with parliamentary and bureacratic transparency bureaucratic, such as Freedom of Information and Hansard.

I currently work primarily on the nexus where open government meets technology. Where we start to look at what government means in a digital age where citizens are more empowered than ever before, where globalisation challenges sovereignty, where the need to adapt and evolve in the public service is vital to provide iterative, personalised and timely responses to new challenges and opportunities both locally and globally.

There are three key pillars of what we like to call “Government 2.0”. A stupid term I know, but bear with me:

  1. Participatory governance – this is about engaging the broader public in the decision making processes of government to both leverage the skills, expertise and knowledge of the population for better policy outcomes, and to give citizens a way to engage directly with decisions and programs that affect their every day lives. Many people think about democratic engagement as political engagement, but I content that the public service has a big role to play in engaging citizens directly in co-developing the future together.
  2. Citizen centricity – this is about designing government services with the citizen at the centre of the design. Imagine if you will, and I know many in the room are somewhat technical, imagine government as an API, where you can easily aggregate information and services thematically or in a deeply personalised way for citizens, regardless of the structure or machinery of government changes. Imagine being able to change your address in one location, and have one place to ask questions or get the services you need. This is the vision of my.gov.au and indeed there are several initiatives that delivery on this vision including the Canberra Connect service in the ACT, which is worth looking at. In the ACT you can go into any Canberra Connect location for all your Territory/Local government needs, and they then interface with all the systems of that government behind the scenes in a way that is seamless to a citizen. It is vital that governments and agencies start to realise that citizens don’t care about the structures of government, and neither should they have to. It is up to us all to start thinking about how we do government in a whole of government way to best serve the public.
  3. Open and transparent government – this translates as both parliamentary transparency, but also opening up government data and APIs. Open data also opens up opportunities for greater analysis, policy development, mobile service delivery, public transaprency and trust, economic development through new services and products being developed in the private sector, and much more.

Open Data

Open data is very much my personal focus at the moment. I’m now in charge of data.gov.au, which we are in the process of migrating to an excellent Open Source data repository called CKAN which will be up soon. There is currently a beta up for people to play with.

I also am the head cat herder for a volunteer run project called GovHack which ran only just a week ago, where we had 1000 participants from 8 cities, including here in Brisbane, all working with government data to build 130 new hacks including mashups, data visualisations, mobile and other applications, interactive websites and more. GovHack shows clearly the benefits to society when you open up government data for public use, particularly if it is available in a machine readable way and is available under a very permissive copyright such as Creative Commons.

I would highly recommend you check out my blog posts about open data around the world from when I went to a conference in Helsinki last year and got to meet luminaries in this space including Hans Rosling, Dr Tim Hubbard and Rufus Pollock. I also did some work with the New Zealand Government looking at NZ open data practice and policy which might be useful, where we were also able to identify some major imperatives for changing how governments work.

The exciting thing is how keen government agencies in Federal, State, Territory and Local governments are to open up their data! To engage meaningfully with citizens. And to evolve their service delivery to be more personalised and effective for everyone. We are truly living in a very exciting time for technologists, democracy and the broader society.

Though to be fair, governments don’t really have much choice. Citizens are more empowered than ever before and governments have to adapt, delivery responsive, iterative and personalised services and policy, or risk losing relevance. We have seen the massive distribution now of every traditional bastion of power, from publishing, communications, monitoring, enforcement, and even property is about to dramatically shift, with the leaps in 3D printing and nano technologies. Ultimately governments are under a lot of pressure to adapt the way we do things, and it is a wonderful thing.

The Federal Australian Government already has in place several policies that directly support opening up government data:

Australia has also recently signed up to the Open Government Partnership, an international consortia of over 65 governments which will be a very exciting step for open data and other aspects of open government.

At the State and Territory level, there is also a lot of movement around open data. Queensland and the ACT launched your new open data platform late last year with some good success. NSW and South Australia have launched new platforms in the last few weeks with hundreds of new data sets. Western Australia and Victoria have been publishing some great data for some time and everyone is looking at how they can do so better!

Many local governments have been very active in trying to open up data, and a huge shout out to the Gold Coast City Council here in Queensland who have been working very hard and doing great things in this space!

It is worth noting that the NSW government currently have a big open data policy consultation happening which closes on the 17th June and is well worth looking into and contributing to.

Embracing geekiness

One of my biggest bug bears is when people say “I’m sorry the software can’t do that”. It is the learned helplessness of the tech illiterate that is our biggest challenge for innovating and being globally competitive, and as countries like Australia are overwhelming well off, with the vast majority of our citizens living high quality lives, it is this learned helplessness that is becoming the difference between the haves and have nots. The empowered and the disempowered.

Teaching everyone to embrace their inner geek isn’t just about improving productivity, efficiency, innovation and competitiveness, it is about empowering our people to be safer, smarter, more collaborative and more empowered citizens in a digital world.

If everyone learnt and experienced even the tiniest amount of programming, we would all have embedded that wonderful instinct that says “the software can do whatever we can imagine”.

Open Source communities and ethos gives us a clear vision as to how we can overcome every traditional barrier to collaboration to make awesome stuff in a sustainable way. It teaches us that enlightened self interest in the age of the Internet translates directly to open and mutually beneficial collaboration.

We can all stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before, and become the giants that support the next generation of pioneers. We can all contribute to making this world just a bit more awesome.

So get out there, embrace your inner geek and join the open movement. Be it Open Source, open government or open knowledge, and whatever your particular skills, you can help shape the future for us all.

Thank you for coming today, thank you to Jim for inviting me to be a part of this launch, and good luck to you all in your endeavours with this new project. I look forward to working with you to create the future of our society, together.

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Aus Community

TEDx in Sydney: My quick review

Yesterday I attended TEDx Sydney. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I’ve not been to TED events before, but the speaker line up looked fantastic and the attendee list looked pretty interesting.

The x in TEDx means the event was independently organised by local volunteers, and I originally heard about the event through two of the organisers who are friends of mine, Alex Young and Rob Manson. A huge congratulations to Alex, Rob and all the other organisers for coordinating such an amazing event. I didn’t have a point of comparison, but one person said on Twitter that it was the most professional TEDx they’d been to yet!

The day itself was fantastic. There were a few talks and performances that had me absolutely riveted, and I got to meet up with a lot of interesting people. There was a lot going on at any one point which was a bit hard to track, and we were discouraged from “blogging” in the actual room at the beginning of the day which annoyed me, but apparently that is a normal TED thing.

I tweeted about the content all day as did a few others, so check out #tedxsydney over the coming days & I’ll post my tweet list a bit later for posterity 🙂

I also wanted to expand upon a couple of thoughts from the day.

Firstly, most of the talks discussed very black and white approaches and concluded with black and white outcomes, and it occurred to me that the world is very grey, it is rarely linear in nature and yet we insist upon boxing and defining things into easy to understand linear rationalism that simply doesn’t map onto reality, at least not for long. It is certainly useful to conceptualise and try to define things for our own understanding, but it reinforced for me that we need to work hard to maintain an open mind, flexibility in our mental models and compassion for other people and other ways of doing things. We also need to remember just because it sounds good to us in our context, doesn’t make it “good” for everyone.

Secondly, In Nigel March’s talk about work/life balance, he posed the question “what does your perfect work day look like?” and it was a fascinating thought experiment that I will continue to play with. As he said, most people don’t really think about this, and therefore you don’t know how to find the balance that is right for you. Later, when I heard a talk about “micro-insurance”, I got thinking about the application of Nigel’s approach to the
world as a whole.

What do we imagine to be the perfect balance for the entire world? Does it mean everyone working jobs they like? Everyone getting access to good health and education? Everyone driving cars, eating what they want, speaking their views openly and without fear? What are the basic things we want to see in the world and – and this is the hard bit – how realistic or sustainable is that vision? I guess what I started pondering was what is the actual goal people have in mind when they talk about working towards a “better world”?

It’s great that from the relative luxury of a developed, affluent and educated society, we are looking at ways to share, connect, collaborate and generally reduce our carbon footprint, but what of others who have never tasted the fruits of materialism, others without anything who have been (unfortunately) conditioned through Western culture to think that having the nice car, or house, or billion other things is a sign of success. Nigel spoke about the need to redefine what we consider “success” to be, and suggested owning loads of things wasn’t really it. I suggest we are going to face some difficulty in convincing the vast majority of the world’s population who are starting to want more things that stuff doesn’t make you happy 🙂

Every presentation from the day had interesting ideas to share, but here were the ones that really grabbed me, that kept me absolutely focused for their entire presentation. Check out the schedule for all presentations, which will be available online to watch in a week or two:

  • Bobby Singh – gave a stunning Indian drumming performance, describing and thhe demonstrating the language of drumming. Like any good story, he used his drumming to convey great meaning and I felt as if I could listen for hours.
  • Michael Kirby – gave a concise, thought-provoking and at times justifiably harsh talk about secularism and gay marriage. It was fantastic to listen to him, as he is both a brilliant and funny speaker, with something important to say.
  • Nigel Marsh – gave a thought provoking talk about trying to achieve work-life balance, and it was well worth listening to.
  • All the musical performances were brilliant, especially William Barton, one of Australia’s leading didjeridu players who combined it with the electric guitar and some beatboxing! It was also awesome to see FourPlay do their thing (twice).
  • Rachel Botsman – gave a well articulated talk about how massive connectivism is changing things. She managed to capture some really great ideas, but I have to say I was initially a little put off by the term “collaborative consumerism”, though it was awesome to see a subtle shoutout to Open Source and Free Software when she included Tux in her slides as an example of a successful connected community 🙂
  • Seb Chan – gave a great talk about the Powerhouse Museum and what they are up to, and it’s always great to listen to his raw passion and enthusiasm for his work.
  • Finally, Amanda Barnard who spoke about nanotechnology and what they are doing with nano-diamonds.

PS – I was going to take photos all day from my HTC Desire as a roadtest, but forgot my phone charger :/

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Aus Community Government

Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 3 of 3

This is the final part of my Government 2.0 blog post.

Beware the hype

“Government 2.0” is a current buzz phrase, and when you hear it used, it could mean just about anything from having a Facebook account to a fully geospatial integrated citizen-centric solution for delivery of services. There is a lot of hype about, and you need to ensure when you are engaging with experts in this space that they really know what they are talking about. You also need to carefully consider new products and services in this space to ensure they meet your strategic needs. Simple and easy solutions, particularly the solutions your users can engage with and aggregate will be more used and more useful.

Cross reference advice you receive, build relationships with several people/groups/companies in this area, get your people involved in the community, and pool your resources with others in government to help you.

Finding and pooling useful resources and advice

AGIMO have a useful Web Publishing guide which is currently being updated to include useful Gov 2.0 technologies and methodologies, and they are trying to aggregate case studies in this space, so talk to them about what you are trying to achieve and to connect with other agencies in the same boat. Also find and engage directly with the community (see below).

Start a Govdex (or other collaborative) group to share experiences with other agencies, and to pool the wisdom available within agencies and externally. Start to list helpful resources, reading materials, people to talk to. It may be useful to create an advisory panel with reputable people in this space for government engagement and collaboration. This will help you have a more rounded and informed approach in creating your own Gov 2.0 strategy.

Also, keep an eye on the great work and very interesting blog of the newly announced Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce. They will also be creating a report within 6 months or so which will be very useful for government policy in this space.

Senator Lundy ran a recent “Public Sphere: Government 2.0” event which had several hundred contributors to the event, blog, Twitter-feed and live-blogging. The briefing paper is in the process of being finalising with public consultation on a wiki, and it has useful and well-considered ideas and recommendations for government from experts all around Australia and the world. All video footage of the event is publicly available.

There is a movie project called UsNow which covers this area quite well. The website says “New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.” It is worth watching and includes several interesting case studies.

Finally, allow your staff to engage with the Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 community.

Engage with the community

There are some passionate individuals and communities in this space, and empowering one or a few internal champions to engage will be enormously beneficial through what is learned and then able to be integrated into your strategy. Below are a few communities I know of:

  • Twitter – check out the #publicsphere, #gov2au and #gov20 hashtags (discussions), and connect with people who are participating in the discussion. This will rapidly get you in touch with many local experts, as well as in tune with what the Twitter community interested in this space are saying.
  • Conferences – look for and attend Gov 2.0, Web 2.0 and Open Government events. There are many happening in Australia at the moment, and some significant ones also happening overseas. I won’t bother listing some here as the information will date very quickly. You’ll find they are usually announced on some of the Gov 2.0 communities below.
  • Gov 2.0 groups/lists – there are several useful ones. A few I’ve joined include the Gov 2.0 Australia mailing list, GovLoop networking group, the Gov 2.0 Ning group, and of course it is worth subscribing to and participating in the Government 2.0 Taskforce blog.

Find small wins first

There will always be small wins, and the best thing to do would be to consult with your users on what they want and their prioritisation to help you identify small and quick wins in this space. A few potential examples are below, just to get you thinking about what sort of practical things you might want to do:

  • Ensure your news and information is available by RSS or ATOM, both are formats that allow people to subscribe to and even aggregate your updates. News might include Local Council or agency updates, weather reports, press releases or speeches. Anything you want to communicate publicly.
  • Ensure geospatial data (location) is stored with your data, for instance, infrastructure projects or events have clear location information. Then expose this location data along with the normal information so both you and the general public can create user-centric maps based on your your data.
  • Iterative improvements – don’t look for a single, all-inclusive solutions, because a) great ones don’t exist, b) they rarely do any one thing particularly well and c) they will be out of date within the month and are hard to replace or append to. Look for specific functions you want, and iteratively add them as part of your backend suite, integrating them seamlessly into your front end. This way you can add and remove functions as you want them. To achieve this you need all your technology to be standards compliant both in terms of web standards, data formats, and protocols. It will give you a lot of flexibility in the long run.
  • When considering public consultations, put the consultation online on a blog post for public comment and allow people to respond to  each other. Let people know the comments will be included in the public consultation. You could also run a Public Sphere event for further public consultation.

Constantly re-evaluate

Ensure you plan into your Gov 2.0 strategy regular reassessment (perhaps quarterly or half yearly), as this area will continue to change and shift. You need to be able to adapt and engage. Your participation in the Gov 2.0 community will assist you in assessing your own progress.

The 7 lessons from Obama

Below are the “7 lessons learned from the Obama campaign” presented recently at the Frocomm Gov 2.0 conference I attended by Brian Giesen, a Senior Digital Strategist from 360° Digital Influence. I think the 7 lessons/observations are quite useful.

I’ve added my thoughts to each of his points after a dash:

  1. Own your search engine results (paid & unpaid) – you can do this by optimising your website(s) for good searchability, and if you can by spending some money for paid search results (eg – Google ads).
  2. Find an internal social media champion (with genuine passion) – then empower them. Ensure they are collaborative and consultative in their approach, and ensure you pick the right person. The young graphic designer with a cool haircut may not be the right person, you need to ask around.
  3. Create a presence off the .gov domain (eg facebook Youtube Twitter). Ensure it is well staffed and well researched – and ensure all your online presences are aggregated back on your main website, and that everything is integrated such that items published in one medium, can appear on other mediums. Eg – your blog posts can automatically be published in Twitter and on Facebook with some pretty basic tools, like Twittertools for WordPress.
  4. Listen, plan and then engage with online communities – there are loads of Web 2.0, Gov 2.0, geospatial, political and many other communities with an active presence online with whom you can communicate. You can also look at who your end users are (constituents, general public, statisticians, etc) and try to engage them online.
  5. Be fast, nimble & willing to try new things – Given the rapid pace of online communications, there is certainly some risk involved, however citizens will appreciate more transparency into your office or agency, and by being constantly open to new things, you’ll maximise the opportunities to engage and improve services-delivery.
  6. Offer ladder of engagement, so people can engage as much or as little as they like, but have options – this basically means to ensure that individuals in the public can engage in a variety of ways to facilitate their specific interest level, from simply posting a comment, right through to running events and direct consultation in major projects. This empowers people to want to engage.
  7. Find influencers and make them fans. eg, invite to the conversation, give them tools – engage with connectors, leaders and influential people in your area. If they love what you are doing, that will encourage people in their sphere of influence to check your work out.

Last word

This is a very exciting time for government and citizens. We have new opportunities to improve our democracy through the use of online technical and social methodologies. You need to ensure you approach Government 2.0 with your eyes open, and in partnership with the broader community. This will help you achieve the best outcomes for you and your users/constituents.

Good luck, have fun and thank you for helping make Australia an even better place to live, an even better democracy and a world leader in the information society!

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Aus Community Government

Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 2 of 3

Welcome to part two my this blog post. Part one covered some basic definitions for Web 2.0, Open Government and Government 2.0. Now to our next steps.

Learn from others’ success

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” Abraham Lincoln

Look at the existing successes around the world, and the broader impact of these case studies. This will help you understand some basic strategies that may suit you and some ideas of the impact that may result. Below I’ve put four sets of examples I think we can learn a lot from.

Success in the UK

In the United Kingdom there has been a lot of work done to look at “Gov 2.0” by the “Power of Information Taskforce“, which was established in 2008 based on a report completed in 2007 by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg called the ‘Power of Information review‘. The core aspects of the Taskforce recommendations include: helping people online where they seek help; innovate and co-create with citizens online; open up the policy dialogue online; reform geospatial data; modernise data publishing and reuse; and a modern capability.

The UK has a Minister for Digital Engagement, which has provided political leadership in this area. There are a series of Government 2.0 initiatives being undertaken under this portfolio. At this point the main initiatives appear to be around copyright reform and data accessibility, and their challenges in these areas are similar to Australia. They have gone through consultation and are now in the actual project phase of implementing digital engagement. Will Perrin (Secretary of the Power of Information Taskforce) wrote a very useful blog post about more collaborative policy development including a link to a draft white paper he is writing on the subject.

Success in the US

It is worth looking at how President Obama has used online tools. His first Memorandum in office was on this topic stating “The Memorandum calls for instilling three principles in the workings of government: Transparency – to enable greater accountability, efficiency, and economic opportunity by making government data and operations more open; Participation – to create early and effective opportunities to drive greater and more diverse expertise into government decision making; Collaboration – to generate new ideas for solving problems by fostering cooperation across government departments, across levels of government, and with the public“.

President Obama has also started a new initiative called “Open Government” to assess how to generally improve the transparency and openness of the United States Government. Also for many years in the US all non-private government data there has been released into the public domain which encourages massive public and private innovation with the data to the benefit of the economy and society. There is still a lot of work to do in the US in the rest of government and in government agencies. There is a good Gov 2.0 showcase available of US government agency case studies.

Success in Australia

There are some amazing individuals who have been pushing this barrow for years – with varying degrees of success – and have created some cutting edge Gov 2.0 initiatives.

At an agency level, there are many successes driven by passionate Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 individuals which has been extremely beneficial to many projects and citizens. I’ll post some of these case studies soon. Unfortunately, often enough, champions of citizen-centric services and online engagement in the public service are unable to talk publicly about their successes, but that is another story. There are some useful examples of Gov 2.0 in the public sector in the recent Government 2.0 Public Sphere briefing paper which is still in draft. Hopefully the resulting list of Gov 2.0 case studies in the public sector can be published as a showcase of Australian successes.

We’ve also had a number of interesting cases in the Australian political sphere. Senator Lundy has been leading the way in online engagement with her constituents and the broader community through her website (she’s run her own website for over 13 years) and more recently her engagement on Twitter. The take-up of online tools by politicians has been slow, however this is beginning to change. Senator Lundy references some new approaches by politicians in the speech she delivered at CeBIT this year. Minister Tanner wrote an interesting book that relates nicely to this space called “Open Australia” in 1999.

You should try to connect with other people in government to share successes and learn from each other.

The long term success in the Open Source community

Finally, there are many lessons that can be learned from the Open Source community. The strategies of online engagement, public collaboration on projects, encouraging positive and constructive input, consultative decision-making and open and transparent processes have been very effectively used by the Open Source community for over 20 years. Here are a few examples:

  • Encouraging constructive public contributions – ensure there is a well-communicated tangible goal of the project to ensure everyone is heading in the right direction. Thus you can draw your community back from unconstructive behaviours. You also need to set the tone of the project. Whether it be some instructions on how you’d like them to participate or something as simple as a code of conduct, setting the tone will help keep the community constructive. Users will often self-regulate if there is clear direction on the goals and tone of the project.
  • Ensure people can easily find and then access whatever they need to contribute – the more barriers to entry (which may be anything from a non-disclosure agreement to buried information) the fewer participants you’ll get. You need great documentation for how to participate and to explain the philosophy of the project. Where possible, include people in the planning phases and decision making of your project so the process benefits from broader community input and also from people wanting to see it succeed due to the sense of personal contribution in the process.
  • Release early, release often – this idea is based on software code being released early in the development cycle, and as often as possible, as this makes it easier for other software developers to test and contribute to the project. From a Gov 2.0 perspective, this could be applied to any sort of online engagement from policy development to general communications. People would prefer to have access to the information in a way they can both access and hopefully contribute to than to wait for a potentially more perfect but slower response. The perceived perfect is the enemy of the good, particularly when it comes to establishing an open process.
  • Many eyes make all bugs shallow – basically the power of “crowdsourcing” as it is becoming known. Creating a discussion or a thing in the public eye and garnering the wisdom of the crowd by encouraging and empowering many participants.

Define your Government 2.0 success criteria

It’s important to consider early on what Government 2.0 means to you, both strategically and practically? What do you see as success criteria for a successful Gov 2.0 implementation? My big picture success criteria are around the three pillars described in the previous post, but you need to be clear on what it means to you while also being open to new ideas and potential opportunities.

Carefully evaluate your options

Ensure you know at all times what you want to achieve, the basic requirements you would like to meet, and the mandatory requirements you have to meet. You don’t want to jump into new shiny tools just to catch up. Rather you should have a well-considered Gov 2.0 strategy that includes how any new approaches fit into your workflow, how they are resourced and maintained, how they fit into your broader communication strategy, and how they best serve your users.

For instance, you need to consider how you best use existing social networking tools as part of your Gov 2.0 strategy. Twitter is great for three specific tasks: updates; for specific conversations; and for rapidly generating interest and ideas for a project or conference. It shouldn’t be used trivially however people do like to see the real person behind the Twitter account, so some personal insight is also of value. You do need to ensure you have transparency in who is actually posting.

In Senator Lundy’s office we use WordPress for the main website, which integrates with Twitter and has great social media plugins. We also use Twitter, FacebookYoutube, Vimeo and FlickR (soon to be added to the website). We are looking at some additional tools, but importantly, we are making sure everything is integrated to create a cohesive online presence. There is a lot of work in signing up and maintaining a number of online services, and dealing with them all independently of each other defeats some of the benefits.

You want to ensure that staff are able to communicate externally and have access to useful social networking sites (it helps them, helps you, and helps your users) but are also aware of what they should not discuss publicly.

Some vendors will be trying to entice you to put all your data into the “cloud”, but all of government has an obligation to ensure their data is stored within the Australian legal jurisdiction, which means offshore storage of government data is neither appropriate nor responsible. All of government is supposed to adhere to open standards for their data, and this is extremely important to ensure you can access your own data down the track, and to share data between different systems. Consider when evaluating your normal ICT systems how easy it would be to open up various processes or information which will hopefully help you avoid locking to systems that don’t facilitate your Gov 2.0 strategy.

Some ideas that are not current obligations include the consideration of how new systems will integrate with other systems, and what the exit cost of any new strategy is as part of the TCO analysis. Ensure you find expertise in this area to assist you.

Tomorrow will be the final post in this short three-part Gov 2.0 blog post including how to avoid the hype, finding useful resources and engaging with the community.

Categories
FOSS Waugh Partners

The Foundations of Openness

In March 2007 I went to Oxford University and worked on a paper about openness, a topic that had become vitally important as we were seeing more and more companies jump on the FOSS bandwagon with psuedo FOSS projects that were often not at all open. This had concerned Jeff and I somewhat and so we came up with a model that took into account 5 core themes – Open Source, Open Standards, Open Knowledge, Open Governance and Open Market.

A conversation with Dave Neary yesterday reminded me that I hadn’t published and needed to publish this paper. Many thanks to all those who contributed (attribution in the document) and to the Randy Metcalfe who worked very hard on this with me to bring it together, and of course Jeff for his enormous input and for coming up with the basis of this with me 🙂

I have specifically blogged this, to gain feedback, create dialogue and hopefully inspire a raft of new ideas around this topic. People can also download a pdf Foundations-of-openness-V2-release. I have an odt file somewhere which I will try to find again. I challenge people to apply the model to their own projects (FOSS and proprietary) to see how well it maps. Have fun! Pull it apart! Update the document! 🙂

UPDATE Jan 2015: The OSS-Watch crew took this paper and turned it into an app people can use to rate the openness of their software! Nice work guys! See the Openness Rating App by OSS-Watch, released December 2014.

Creative Commons License

Foundations of Openness by
Pia Waugh & Randy Metcalfe is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.